A HISTORIC cruise ship based in Southampton has sailed away with a top award - despite being confined to port by the pandemic.

The Steamship Shieldhall has been named Small Visitor Attraction of the Year at the Beautiful South Awards for Excellence 2020/21, staged by Tourism South East.

In another boost for the city SEE Southampton Tour Guides has won silver in the Experience and Event of the Year category.

And Solent Conference Centre, part of Solent University, Southampton, has taken silver in the Business Events of the Year award.

Built at Renfrew, Scotland, in 1955 Shieldhall is Britain's biggest working steamship. The 66-year-old vessel is a member of the National Historic Fleet and serves as a seagoing tribute to Britain’s maritime heritage.

But no sailings were possible in 2020 - the ship's 65th anniversary - because of coronavirus restrictions.

John Rose, chairman of the Steamship Shieldhall Charity, said: "This award gives us the perfect platform as we plan ahead for 2021 and is recognition to the invaluable work of our volunteers and supporters, who help to keep Shieldhall ‘alive and steaming’.

"A total of 25,000 hours are put in each year with each volunteer keen that visitors experience steamship-style sailings and the atmosphere of yesteryear."

SEE Southampton is also planning to resume its activities later this year, when coronavirus restrictions ease.

Chairman Maurice Keys said: "It’s wonderful that Southampton is being recognised for the quality of its attractions, events and people – especially with the city looking ahead this year to its City of Culture bid."

Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium has the Accessible and Inclusive Tourism Award.

Shorefield Country Park, Milford on Sea, has taken silver in the Camping and Holiday Park of the Year category, finishing just ahead of Sandy Balls Holiday Village at Godshill, near Fordingbridge.

Other successful entrants included eforea Spa at the Ageas Bowl, which has won silver in the Spa and Wellbeing Experience of the Year category.

Fran Downton, chief executive of Tourism South East, said: “Achieving excellence is not easy, particularly in the year we have just navigated. All the finalists can be extremely proud of what they have achieved.

"I was blown away by the quality, positivity, and innovation of the tourism businesses we have across the south east. Many of the winners are truly world-class."